When Pennsylvania officials began a campaign in 1983 to re-establish the state's bald eagle population, only three pairs of the birds and 12 eaglets remained here. Now there are more than 100 bald eagle nests in the state for the first time in over a century.
PITTSBURGH When Pennsylvania officials began a campaign in 1983 to re-establish the state's bald eagle population, only three pairs of the birds and 12 eaglets remained here. Now there are more than 100 bald eagle nests in the state for the first time in over a century.
The news, announced by the state last week, is part of a wider trend nationally that has seen the national bird making a spectacular recovery, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since the mid-1960s, the number of bald eagles in the continental U.S. has increased tenfold to over 7,000.
"Pennsylvania is just a bellwether for every state," said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society. "It's just been a great couple of decades for eagles all across the country."
Pennsylvania's population is dwarfed by states like Florida, with about 1,133 breeding pairs, according to Fish and Wildlife Service data. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington each have more than 500 breeding pairs.
Alaska has about 100,000 bald eagles, more than 90 percent of the nation's population, said Jody Millar, coordinator of the Fish and Wildlife Service's bald eagle recovery program.
Vermont remains the only state in the continental United States without a successful breeding pair of bald eagles. A bald eagle couple hatched an eaglet earlier this year along the Connecticut River, but the young eagle later died. An active restoration project under way in Addison County is releasing young eagles into the wild hoping that when the birds mature they will raise young in the state.
For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, eagles were considered a nuisance and routinely shot by hunters, farmers and fishermen. More than 100,000 were shot in Alaska alone by salmon fishermen who didn't appreciate competition from the raptors, Millar said.
The 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act outlawed shooting eagles. But in the years after WWII the widespread use of the pesticide DDT reduced eagle numbers further. DDT poisoned the birds, killing some adults and making the eggs of those that survived thin. The thin eggs dramatically reduced the chances of eaglets surviving to adulthood.
DDT was banned in 1972. The next year, the Endangered Species Act passed and the bald eagles began their dramatic recovery.
"This is a case where we recognized an environmental threat and took action to relieve it," said Doug Wechsler, an ornithologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. "It stands as a model for what to do with other species. ... Most species, they don't get this much attention."
Because of its success, the bald eagle is scheduled to be removed from the endangered species list within the next year or so. The move has been endorsed by conservation groups.
Source: Associated Press